Three new expats, two human, one canine, countless adventures
Finding a place to live in Chiang Mai is generally quite easy. There are plenty of apartments, often in buildings with a swimming pool, and lots of houses ranging from tiny and dark to huge and luxurious. Many landlords require you to sign a one year lease but it’s possible to find accommodation for shorter periods, particularly if you are looking for an apartment as most short term Chiang Mai residents are.
We were looking for a house. Having lived in apartments for the last five years we wanted outside space and most of all we wanted our dog Mango to have a garden for the first time in her life.
We wanted something fully furnished. Immediately before arriving in Chiang Mai we had just sold every last piece of furniture we owned in Dubai, and given away everything else from microwave to vacuum cleaner to pots and plates we wanted to keep our possessions to a minimum for the foreseeable future.
What to expect for 8-10.000 baht per month
We first started looking in the 8-10,000 ($270-$330) baht per month range for 2-3 bedroom places. We saw a couple of decent properties but they were far outside the centre of town. Most were advertised as ‘fully furnished’ but we quickly realized the local idea of fully furnished and ours was vastly different. We also saw immediately that central air-con was not a feature anywhere. Instead houses had varying numbers of individual wall-mounted a/c units. Usually one in the master bedroom, perhaps another in the living area, perhaps not. You might get a bed in one room, a wardrobe in the other, but no drawer space. If they had any living room furniture it usually consisted of a wooden bench, resembling a park bench and equally as (un)comfortable. An expat friend told me the Thais love this wooden furniture as it lasts a lifetime. A lifetime of discomfort certainly, but it lasts. All the houses in this range had outdoor kitchen space. Typically at the back of the house, the space would have a roof and sometimes a single gas ring stove. One or two had refrigerators, many had small, portable sinks. There was little or no space for food preparation.
Despite the shortcomings of the houses was looked at we did like a couple of them, one in particular, it was at the end of a cul de sac and surrounded by rice paddies. It was a beautiful setting but the location far from town and lack of transport options made it an impractical choice so we had to pass.
Moving up to 12-15,000 baht per month
We then upped our budget and started seeing much nicer houses, closer to town and in the 12-15,000 per month range. The standard and amount of furniture was generally higher but those dreaded wooden benches were still making an appearance. It got so that one of the first things I looked for on the real estate agent’s website photos was a comfortable looking sofa.
We looked at the houses in the 8-10 range while we were in Chiang Mai on holiday, a month before moving here. Once we were here to live and had decided to move from our cheap and cheerful temporary place we went back to the best of the two agents we’d dealt with before and asked to view more properties. One agent had a website but looking through it is somewhat misleading, at first you think there are scores of suitable properties that match with what you are looking for and then you realize they are currently rented out, often for the next several years. We saw one property listed which is let until August 2017!
Our Dream Home
We got really lucky when our songtaew driver friend gave us a magazine to look at. It’s called House and Car and the owner is also a property agent. We called and he picked us up at Thapae Gate and drove us to his office to look through a folder of available houses. We selected a few and first thing next day he called to say he had arranged five viewings. The last house we looked at was one we’d included just for fun because it was so interesting. It was out of our price range but I was intrigued by the fact it was three separate buildings, including a little annex with en suite bedroom.
We saw the final house, met the owners who were in the process of re-furbishing the whole place and decided we could afford to stretch the budget to 20,000. It’s a beautiful house and really is fully furnished, with a big kitchen, all new furniture (including a sofa!), a lovely big garden with tons of potted plants and some trees. It has a good stove, washing machine and fridge-freezer. The owners even asked us what colour curtains we wanted. It’s within walking distance to a local market, and Rimping (good for imported foods) and Tesco supermarets.
We packed all our belongings and Mango into a songtaew and moved in a week later. The agent has continued to help us with things like setting up internet and cable TV and the owners have been great. They live right over the back wall which is not a set-up I’d choose (even though I don’t see many all-night parties in our future) but it’s been fine so far. We love our house, love the fact Mango has a garden to run around, and love and the little community we’re in. It’s certainly the nicest house I’ve ever lived in.
You may find going through an agent helpful. The good news is that the landlord pays the agent’s fee, not you.
The agent we got the house through is a great guy called Jin. He’s incredibly helpful (as I said, he continued to help us after we’d moved in, when he didn’t have to), professional, punctual and an all round nice person. As well as his property business he runs the free House’n’Car magazine which you may see around town. Many of the ads in the magazine are in Korean as Jin is Korean and caters mainly to that market but we answered one of the ads in English and that’s how we got hooked up with him. I definitely recommend him as an agent. Jin can be contact via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chiang Mai Properties – we also went to look at houses with this agency. They have a nice big office, drive you to the properties in a nice car and seem quite professional. We found them OK but not really on the ball and in no way proactive. Not a bad choice for an agent but their website lists many properties which aren’t actually available.
DD Property – my friend found his studio apartment through this agent and found them OK to deal with.
The small and basic house we stayed in when we first arrived cost only 5000 baht per month and can be rented through the Blue Sky bar on the east side of the moat. Just pop into the bar during the day time and ask to speak to the boss and somebody will guide you to the house (you follow on your motorbike – you definitely need a motorbike or bicycle to live in this house as it’s quite a distance from a main road/songthaew route). The house is not too far from the Old City, quite near Airport Plaza.